In 2009/10, Great Yarmouth Borough Council in the county of Norfolk, UK, had numerous participatory budgeting pilot events in order to engage community members in the democratic decision-making process of allocating resources, in part from the Community Cohesion fund.
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Problems and Purpose
Great Yarmouth Borough Council has undertaken a number of pilot Participatory Budgeting (PB) exercises under the banner of “Your Borough, Your Say” during 2009 and 2010 using a combination of community cohesion funding and money allocated from Norfolk County Strategic Partnership’s own PB initiative “Your Norfolk, Your Decision”.
The aim of the pilots have been:
- to show how different communities with different needs respond to and engage with the same process;
- to encourage different communities to feel part of their area and work together;
- to encourage local people to engage in local decisions;
- to encourage residents to actively participate in their community;
- improve resident satisfaction in their area.
Background History and Context
The 2009 and 2010 pilots have built on the learning from Greater Yarmouth Borough's neighbourhood management programme where forms of PB have been trialled since 2006 and have sought to explore different ways in which local people can decide on how resources are being allocated in their respective communities.
The pilot locations have been:
- Southtown, Cobholm and Halfway House Neighbourhood Board
- Magdalen, Shrublands and Elmhurst Court Neighbourhood Board
- South and Central Yarmouth Neighbourhood Board (Comeunity)
- Martham Parish Council
- Belton Parish Council
- Great Yarmouth Older People’s Network
Each area was selected based on levels of deprivation within our urban wards, linking with the roll-out of neighbourhood management. It was also important to explore the rural dynamic of running such a scheme and therefore two Parish Councils were selected both based on the levels of deprivation but both presented different contexts and experiences in which to operate the pilots. Martham which had recently received Quality Status and Belton which hoped to achieve that status next year. With a significant proportion of the borough population over the age of 50 the Great Yarmouth Older People’s Network was selected as a community of interest, rather than a community of place to trial this approach. The network had undertaken considerable work to ensure it was equipped to deliver on the Sustainable Communities Strategy and this presented a good opportunity to test-bed this case.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
The Borough Council advertised the whole exercise under the banner of “Your Borough, Your Say” in several places, including the quarterly Borough News that is distributed to every household and at two events in the town’s Market Place. Each individual host group has also promoted their scheme under the banner “Your.... Your decision” in a range of ways: in newsletters, leaflets and street/event engagements in their areas. In addition to the extremely wide coverage by newsletter, over 2000 people have directly engaged at face to face consultation events and during the decision making events.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative uses participatory budgeting, an increasingly common method of democratic innovation broadly described as "a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources." There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting including increased civic and democratic education; increased government transparency; and an increased opportunity for participation by historically marginalized populations. 
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
A toolkit was adapted using both local and regional models and provided as a resource to the host groups running each of the six schemes. Support was provided from the Borough Council in developing each scheme and additional community development support was offered to host groups from the local community and voluntary sector. There was early recognition that each community setting is different and one size does not fit all so the approach was particularly flexible to recognise these differences. This has resulted in each exercise being run slightly differently and with a great variety in approaches but this has enabled a wider evaluation of methods and approaches. For example, a decision-making event for the Older People’s Network might be more difficult given there is not a natural meeting point for all older people in the borough and depending on such an event may exclude a number of people from taking part.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Participatory budgeting has given local residents an opportunity to see that they can change the area where they live and can influence decisions that affect them in a variety of ways. It also allows communities the opportunity to interact with different people and communities and for them to come together.
For host orgnisations, PB provides an opportunity to reach more people and engage them more fully in the decisions that they take. It has encouraged organisations to think about how inclusive they are and how they engage their wider communities.
For service providers, PB has provided an opportunity to explore a number of creative ways in which local people can determine how resources are spent. The learning from these exercises will help partners to consider how better to devolve resources in the future.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Planning and organisation was learned to have been key to success in the process. Participatory budgeting is a process, and as such, the process has to be planned from identifying community needs, to rationalising this to bidding criteria, to advertising the scheme to short-listing and engaging the wider community in decision-making. This requires considerable effort and time from the host organisation with no immediate sense of achievement and often limited recognition of the efforts of the host organisation.
Support and guidance to organisations running PB exercises is also key. There are inevitable questions and unforeseen events which require advice and guidance. A toolkit alone is not sufficient and can make host groups feel unnecessarily burdened with paperwork.
Communication is really important not only between all of the partners but also in ensuring that each exercise tailors the way it communicates to best fit their community. From this experience, it seems to be best not to underplay the opportunity for local people to influence decision-making.
Elected members should be fully engaged in the process and seen as champions for such approaches as community leader and advocates for their respective communities.
Some host organisations will be more receptive and pro-active than others and some methods will be more appropriate than others. Promoting such schemes as pilots in the first instances will enable areas to try and test PB to see what really works. No two communities are the same.
Public Perception: Quotes
According to Councillor Barry Stone, Deputy Leader of the Great Yarmouth Borough Council, "this scheme is really exciting as it gives residents the power to make local decisions and to interact with different people. I’m also particularly pleased that rural areas are receiving their share of the funding. This is a great opportunity for people to get involved and, if this pilot is successful, we hope to make more money available next year.”
Mike Huke, Chairman of Martham Parish Council, states that “Martham Parish Council was proud to achieve Quality Status during 2009 and even more delighted that this was recognised with the award of £10,000 from Great Yarmouth Borough Council as part of the Participatory Budgeting Scheme. The scheme was easy to design and administer thanks to help provided by the Borough Council and we arranged a promotional display at the Village Christmas Fayre which has started to generate interest from local clubs and organisations in bidding for grants. In a short period 34 application forms have been sent out and we are hopeful that when the grants ‘Decision Day’ is held on 27th February 2010 it will involve a large number of residents in both the bidding and voting process.”
Local resident and Joint PB Steering Group Lead, Naomi Richards, notes that "it is community friendly budgeting, [and] anything that really listens to the community has to be good."
 Church Action on Poverty (2008). Retrieved from https://www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk/case-studies/your-borough-your-say-in-great-yarmouth/
Lead Image: Great Yarmouth https://goo.gl/ih8CGA
This case study was originally submitted to the Participatory Budgeting Unit by the organisers of the project, using a template supplied by the PB Unit.